28 12 2012

new-years-resolutionsEvery year is the same; depending on which survey you read somewhere over 70%, 80% or even 95% of all New Year’s Eve resolutions are doomed to fail. Where will yours stack up in that statistical pile? 

Here are a few tips to ensure this year your resolution becomes reality.

Here at Cowan Global we spend our time helping businesses and third sector organisations become successful by helping them be better at strategy. This means not only better at delivering strategy but in establishing challenging but achievable targets to pursue in the first place.

And every year, where so many organisations fall short of their potential (and even fail), most of the population follow. Every year people set targets (aka New Year’s Resolutions) they have absolutely no chance of delivering.

Key to your being successful in whatever you resolve to do in 2013 is to be smarter when you set your target now. By smarter, I mean SMARTER because it is an acronym you can test your resolution against:

S stands for specific. If you aren’t specific about what you want to achieve how can you honestly know when you have succeeded? “I want to lose weight,” simply won’t cut the mustard; “I want to lose half a stone” will. It is specific so that you know what it is you are setting out to achieve.

M stands for measurable. You need to be able to measure progress or you risk losing motivation. “I want to get fitter,” is a laudable aim but is hard to measure. “I want to be fit enough to run 10km without stopping” puts a measure on it and you can tick off 1, 2, 3, 4 and more kms as landmarks along the way to help keep you motivated.

A stands for agreed. If you are involving other people, they must all agree or you will fail. Beyond that people have a penchant for setting resolutions they think others will be impressed by instead of setting targets for themselves. Put another way, your resolution must be something that, deep inside, you agree you can and will pursue, you must agree your resolution with yourself! Half-hearted = half-arsed = doomed to fail.

R stands for realistic. You will know people (you might be one of them) who have big, often alcohol driven dreams every December 31st who wake on 1st January to realise there is no way on God’s earth they will achieve their resolution and it bites the dust before it sees its first sunset. Unrealistic can mean plain crazy (eg I’m going to swim the Atlantic using butterfly) or ill-conceived such as committing to hit the gym for two hours every day when you know that work and family commitments will make one hour every other day far more realistic.

T stands for time-phased. In short; give yourself a deadline and, if it is a large undertaking give yourself some time-phased check points along the way. So, if you are going to run to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro for charity it might be wise to have some progressive targets along the way as you prepare.

E stands for exciting. Does achieving your resolution excite you? If yes, great; if no, bin it and get another because if you aren’t excited by it now the further we get into 2013 the less you will be motivated to achieve it and that will lead to only one thing – failure.

R stands for recorded. Not just a record for yourself but a public record to which you agree to be accountable. This might be as simple as telling your friends you are going to raise over £1000 for your favourite charity or it might be sharing your progress towards fitness, weight loss, giving up smoking or whatever else on a public blog. By recording what your resolution is you make yourself accountable for failure.

There are other acronyms you can employ. If you are aiming to improve at something you already do try CRAMP. Your resolution will need to be Challenging but Realistic, Agreed and Measurable not forgetting Performance orientated. Of course, if you forget to make it Measurable it becomes something else altogether!

Whether SMARTER, CRAMP or February wash out, thank you for reading the Cowan Global Blog during 2012, I’m looking forward to writing more in 2013 and hope you will join me then.

Have a great time on New Year’s Eve; see you the other side!

Clough Taylor LogoIf you are looking for a great charity run (or walk) to make your resolution target, why not consider the Clough Taylor People’s Run on 10th March? Organised by social enterprise People’s Events (of whom I am Chairman) and supported by Cowan Global, the event is a 10km run (or walk) around the historic Donington Park motor racing circuit in memory of two great men, Brian Clough and Peter Taylor, and in support of some fantastic causes. Every participant gets a free T-shirt and every finisher a commemorative medal. For more details click here.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, December 2012

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Twitter @cowanglobal


19 12 2012

Blue Santa 2Here we are, Christmas rapidly approaching and, no doubt, Santa and his helpers are busy loading up their sleigh while the reindeer prepare at the pre-event Pasta Party. But are you aware that the scene you are probably picturing was aided by a very clever strategy early in the last century?

It is not widely appreciated that the original colour Santa chose for his work uniform was blue. Then along came Coca Cola with a Christmas advertising strategy which forever changed the colour of Christmas. The idea was simple, dress Santa in Coca Cola’s corporate colours thus making him an unofficial ambassador for the drinks company.

Within a few years, people had forgotten about Santa’s preferred blue hue and the whole world had adopted Coke’s new colour for Santa. Nowadays, Santa dresses in red – period. Coke still use him as part of their seasonal advertising, possibly one of the longest running celebrity endorsements in history, however the original campaign was so successful in changing Santa’s uniform that the link in colour scheme is no longer recognised.

Depending on whom you ask this story is true, a myth or a combination of the two. But it seems a nice little story of strategy changing the way we see Christmas through which I would like to wish everyone who subscribes to, reads or accidentally happens across the Cowan Global Blog a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy, peaceful and prosperous New Year.

See you the other side!

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, December 2011

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Twitter @cowanglobal

(Originally posted Christmas 2011).


17 12 2012

NASAIt is a line which became synonymous with the early days of space exploration and it fell into common usage as a term used whenever things were going wrong; “Houston, we have a problem.”

Only today it is Houston or, more precisely, NASA who has the problem. Why? The organisation used by consultants around the world as an example of quality Visioning has forgotten how to do quality Vision.

I am among the many Strategy Consultants who, when asked to cite a great example of what a Vision should look like has quoted NASA’s Vision originally stated by John F Kennedy on 25th May 1961:

“This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.”

As a Vision it had everything a good Vision requires. It was measurable, it had a clear deadline, it was inspiring and motivational, it was achievable and it clearly sign-posted the way for the focus of the ensuing NASA Strategy which ultimately led to its being achieved.

Fast forward from the 1960s to the 2010s and things have drastically changed. Much of the discussion around the future of space flight appears to emanate from the private sector within the USA or from other nations not previously viewed as ‘space powers.’ NASA is slipping behind.

A recent report from the Space Foundation declared; “NASA’s 2011 Strategic Plan is no longer viable.” Others are declaring that neither NASA’s workforce, the US people nor the international community are inspired or motivated to achieve the goal previously stated of visiting an asteroid by 2025. (Source: Aviation Week).

In short, the pioneers and early pacesetters have flown off course. But why?

I would suggest that they need to do little more that look at their current stated Vision* and compare it to that of 1961. They should ask themselves; “is this measurable, does it have a clear deadline, will it inspire and motivate our people to strive for its achievement? Indeed, is it even a Vision?”

The answer will be a resounding no on all points.

While NASA need to look to their past to recognise a better route to their future, for businesses large and small around the world they still teach a simple yet vital lesson in Strategy, a lesson so many still get wrong:

The more specific and clearly stated your Vision, the easier it is to plan for its attainment, the more likely you are to achieve success.

It is a lesson which you forget at your peril!

*NASA’s current stated Vision is:

“To reach for new heights and reveal the unknown so that what we do and learn will benefit all humankind.”

It is classic bad Visioning; confusing Mission with Vision thereby omitting the very thing which gives Strategy direction!


© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, December 2012

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9 12 2012

Active_People_logo_fullI have visited the sorry tale of the absent Olympic sports participation legacy on numerous occasions over the last couple of years. Absent or bad strategy, undelivered promises and political finger crossing have been the key elements of the tale to date, to which we can now add barely believable data…..

Last week (December 6th) Sport England released the latest set of ‘Active People’ statistics which, somewhat surprisingly, were reported by the media without question. Yet, to anyone taking even a passing glance the figures are barely credible. It would appear that having been unable to generate the increase in sporting participation promised by our politicians when winning the London Games bid, the solution has been to simply massage the data to match the promise.

Officially 750,000 more people over the age of 16 are taking part in sport at least once a week compared to 12 months ago. Surely this is good news? Well, yes, it would be if it were believable.

The headline figure offered by Sport England’s expensive Active People survey is 15.5 million over 16s regularly (once per week) taking part in sport.

Put that figure another way and it tells us that Sport England want us to believe that 1 in 3 over 16s in England regularly participate in sport. Seriously? Take a look around you – friends, work colleagues, family, neighbours – one in every three are playing sport regularly, that is what we are being asked to believe.

I can only speak for myself and, for me, that claim beggars belief. That the media accept it unquestioningly astonishes me. That the politicians who fund this expensive survey believe it continues to offer value for money (if it ever did) astounds me.

One in three. Take another look around you. Not one in three under 30s or under 40s, but 33% of all over 16s in England.

It appears the solution for successive governments poor sports development strategy has been introduced. Just make the figures up to fit the promise. And why not, it appears no one cares enough to check anyway.

We still lack a properly integrated national strategy for the development of sport. Young people are still missing out on learning physical literacy at the key age/stage of development and we are still missing any target by which success (or failure) of government policy can be judged. But take a look around you, 1 in 3 of your neighbours are playing sport regularly (ahem) so everything in the garden must be rosy.


© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, December 2012

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Twitter @cowanglobal